RINGING THE CHANGES FROM BOX-OFFICE ATTRACTION TO INDEPENDENT FILM ACTOR IN HIS LATEST CAREER VENTURES
by Marion Ross
Dark horse Keanu Reeves followed his heart rather than his bank account when he turned down the lead in Speed 2 for a supporting role in the low-budget, low-profile movie, The Last Time I Committed Suicide. And, for those who remember Keanu for his lean good looks, the sight of the thirty-two-year-old heart-throb as a 200-pound bar-fly may come as a shock.
According to Reeves, the decision was all about variety and facing a new challenge: "I'm an actor. I like to do new things," he says.
The film is based on a letter written by the protagonist, Neal Cassady, to fellow Beat icon Jack Kerouac. Reeves, who plays Neal's friend Harry, says he drank "beer, wine and scotch" to prepare for the part. But fans will be relieved to hear he is now back to his usual weight and waiting for his next role.
The offers are not exactly flooding in, which some attribute to his decision to pass on Speed 2. However, Reeves claims he has no regrets. In any case, he co-stars with Al Pacino in a big-budget movie, Devil's Advocate, now awaiting release, and their there's the offer of a role as a cocaine dealer in The Late Harvest, a film Alex Winter hopes to make this autumn.
Reeves seems to have chosen a unique path in the acting world, jumping in and out of the limelight when it takes his fancy, touring with his four-year-old band Dogstar between film sets and generally behaving like a latter-day beatnik.
Here, he talks about his career and the reasons behind his unorthodox choices.
Your decision to turn down Speed 2 for the role in The Last Time I Committed Suicide was a bit of a surprise, wasn't it?
"Hang on a second. I was fortunate to act in a film that had the box-office success of Speed, but I think this film is successful artistically. I think it's well-acted and really well-written."
In The Last Time I Committed Suicide, you weren't interested in playing the lead role, were you?
"No. My part in the film is to be Neal's best friend and I enjoyed that. I'm Neal's reflection. I'm someone he can explore his adventurous side with. Neal's dilemma is that he has the ideal of wanting the wife, the kids, the dogs and the cat, but he can't commit to it. And that's a battle I think all men and women are familiar with. 'Do I settle down? Am I missing something? Have I lived?' It's Neal's tragedy that he has this family-and-home ideal, but he can't live it."
What are your personal plans regarding family and commitment?
"It depends on the day. Right now, I don't want any kids. But who knows?"
Well, you seem to have committed yourself completely to your career.
"I guess I have, haven't I?"
You're on a mission to play a huge variety of roles. Is your career on track?
"I don't know. I'm kind of in a netherworld. I've just finished Devil's Advocate which will hopefully be a success. But, right now, the offers aren't flying in, although there are some prospects."
What makes you say 'yes' to a movie role?
"Generally it's the script and the character."
And something you haven't done before?
"Yes, that too. It has to be something I respond to."
Do you find acting in different roles affects you emotionally as a person?
For good or for bad?
"It goes both ways. It's fun to get a part and have the excuse to go out and live like your character would. It's a creative act and fun. But I know with Devil's Advocate there was a lot of tension on set, so that didn't feel great, although part of me really liked the drive."
What was Al Pacino like to work with?
"He's an incredible actor. His technique and inventiveness are remarkable. He prepares himself intellectually and emotionally. He just keeps going. He's always investigating the lines and the moment. And then when the camera rolls he just tries stuff. He's the man."
How about your musical career with your band Dogstar? Is it developing?
"It's not bad. We've been doing a 65-day tour of America. When it goes well, it's really fun."
Does the band have a label?
Are you better as a musician or an actor?
"An actor. I've been acting a little longer and I guess it comes more naturally to me."
You put on weight and drank a lot to prepare for your role in The Last Time I Committed Suicide. If drinking was the preparation for that, how will you get ready for your part as a cocaine dealer in The Last Harvest?
"I'll probably just have to speed my metabolism up, and my whole mental outlook."
You said the scripts aren't pouring in at the moment. Do you think passing on Speed 2 has affected how you're perceived?
"I have no idea. Hopefully, Devils Advocate will be a box-office hit."
Do you make your agents crazy?
"Yes, yes. But they love me, I hope.